Jimmie Johnson Earns His Place in History

by Monte Dutton

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — NASCAR has been around since 1947, and after 62 years, it’s rare when a driver can say he’s done what no one else has ever done.

A fifth-place by Monte Dutton finish in the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway enabled Jimmie Johnson to secure his fourth straight championship of what is now known as the Sprint Cup Series. Cale Yarborough won three straight championships from 1976 through 1978, a mark tied by Johnson in 2008.

Johnson, 34, is only the fourth driver in history to win more than three championships overall. He tied Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon, who won titles in 1995, ’97, ’98 and 2001. Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt share the all-time record with seven championships.

The champion set a proper tone in his post-race remarks.

“I am just blown away by the things we’ve been able to accomplish over the last eight years in the sport,” said Johnson. “Obviously, the last four years have been just unbelievable. To love the sport like I do and respect it like I do, and the history, the pioneers of this sport from Bill France Sr., to the Petty family, you go through many eras up to Mr. [Rick] Hendrick [owner of Johnson’s No. 48

Chevy and what he’s done over the last 25 [years], to look at all of that, and to have done something that’s never been done in the sport before is so, so amazing, and something I am so proud of.

“At the same time, I’ve worked my entire life to be in this position. So has Chad [Knaus, his crew chief] and so has Rick [Hendrick]. It’s not that we backed into any of this. It’s not that it just happened. We’ve gone out and worked really, really hard and have dedicated our lives to it, and it’s paid off. It’s extremely rewarding to have that payoff, and we’re really going to enjoy this.”

Johnson won four of the 10 Chase for the Sprint Cup races for the third time in his career. Overall, he’s won 18 of the 60 races since the format was implemented in 2004. With championships in 2006, ’07 and ’08, Johnson is one of only three drivers to win championships under NASCAR’s present title format. The others were Kurt Busch in 2004 and Tony Stewart in 2005.

Monte Dutton has covered motorsports for The Gaston (NC) Gazette since 1993. He was named writer of the year by the National Motorsports Press Association in 2008. His blog NASCAR This Week (nascar.rbma. com) features all of his reporting on racing, roots music and life on the road. E-mail Monte at nascar_

(c) 2009 King Features Syndicate

Chairman and CEO Brian France presents Jimmie Johnson with the Sprint Cup trophy. (Getty Images photo)